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Richard Nixon: Special Message to the Congress on Science and Technology.
Richard Nixon
89 - Special Message to the Congress on Science and Technology.
March 16, 1972
Public Papers of the Presidents
Richard Nixon<br>1972
Richard Nixon
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To the Congress of the United States:

The ability of the American people to harness the discoveries of science in the service of man has always been an important element in our national progress. As I noted in my most recent message on the State of the Union, Americans have long been known all over the world for their technological ingenuity--for being able to "build a better mousetrap"--and this capacity has undergirded both our domestic prosperity and our international strength.

We owe a great deal to the researchers and engineers, the managers and entrepreneurs who have made this record possible. Again and again they have met what seemed like impossible challenges. Again and again they have achieved success. They have found a way of preventing polio, placed men on the moon, and sent television pictures across the oceans. They have contributed much to our standard of living and our military strength.

But the accomplishments of the past are not something we can rest on. They are something we must build on. I am therefore calling today for a strong new effort to marshal science and technology in the work of strengthening our economy and improving the quality of our life. And I am outlining ways in which the Federal Government can work as a more effective partner in this great task.

The importance of technological innovation has become dramatically evident in the past few years. For one thing, we have come to recognize that such innovation is essential to improving our economic productivity--to producing more and better goods and services at lower costs. And improved productivity, in turn, is essential if we are to achieve a full and durable prosperity--without inflation and without war. By fostering greater productivity, technological innovation can help us to expand our markets at home and abroad, strengthening old industries, creating new ones, and generally providing more jobs for the millions who will soon be entering the labor market.

This work is particularly important at a time when other countries are rapidly moving upward on the scientific and technological ladder, challenging us both in intellectual and in economic terms. Our international position in fields such as electronics, aircraft, steel, automobiles and shipbuilding is not as strong as it once was. A better performance is essential to both the health of our domestic economy and our leadership position abroad.

At the same time, the impact of new technology can do much to enrich the quality of our lives. The forces which threaten that quality will be growing at a dramatic pace in the years ahead. One of the great questions of our time is whether our capacity to deal with these forces will grow at a similiar rate. The answer to that question lies in our scientific and technological progress.

As we face the new challenges of the 1970's, we can draw upon a great reservoir of scientific and technological information and skill--the result of the enormous investments which both the Federal Government and private enterprise made in research and development in recent years. In addition, this Nation's historic commitment to scientific excellence, its determination to take the lead in exploring the unknown, have given us a great tradition, a rich legacy on which to draw. Now it is for us to extend that tradition by applying that legacy in new situations.

In pursuing this goal, it is important to remember several things. In the first place, we must always be aware that the mere act of scientific discovery alone is not enough. Even the most important breakthrough will have little impact on our lives unless it is put to use--and putting an idea to use is a far more complex process than has often been appreciated. To accomplish this transformation, we must combine the genius of invention with the skills of entrepreneurship, management, marketing and finance.

Secondly, we must see that the environment for technological innovation is a favorable one. In some cases, excessive regulation, inadequate incentives and other barriers to innovation have worked to discourage and even to impede the entrepreneurial spirit. We need to do a better job of determining the extent to which such conditions exist, their underlying causes, and the best ways of dealing with them.

Thirdly, we must realize that the mere development of a new idea does not necessarily mean that it can or should be put into immediate use. In some cases, laws or regulations may inhibit its implementation. In other cases, the costs of the process may not be worth the benefits it produces. The introduction of some new technologies may produce undesirable side effects. Patterns of living and human behavior must also be taken into account. By realistically appreciating the limits of technological innovation, we will be in a better position fully to marshal its amazing strengths.

A fourth consideration concerns the need for scientific and technological manpower. Creative, inventive, dedicated scientists and engineers will surely be in demand in the years ahead; young people who believe they would find satisfaction in such careers should not hesitate to undertake them. I am convinced they will find ample opportunity to serve their communities and their country in important and exciting ways.

The fifth basic point I would make concerning our overall approach to science and technology in the 1970's concerns the importance of maintaining that spirit of curiosity and adventure which has always driven us to explore the unknown. This means that we must continue to give an important place to basic research and to exploratory experiments which provide the new ideas on which our edifice of technological accomplishment rests. Basic research in both the public and private sectors today is essential to our continuing progress tomorrow. All departments and agencies of the Federal Government will continue to support basic research which can help provide a broader range of future development options.

Finally, we must appreciate that the progress we seek requires a new partnership in science and technology--one which brings together the Federal Government, private enterprise, State and local governments, and our universities and research centers in a coordinated, cooperative effort to serve the national interest. Each member of that partnership must play the role it can play best; each must respect and reinforce the unique capacities of the other members. Only if this happens, only if our new partnership thrives, can we be sure that our scientific and technological resources will be used as effectively as possible in meeting our priority national needs.

With a new sense of purpose and a new sense of partnership, we can make the 1970's a great new era for American science and technology. Let us look now at some of the specific elements in this process.


The role of the Federal Government in shaping American science and technology is pivotal. of all our Nation's expenditures on research and development, 55 percent are presently funded by the Federal Government. Directly or indirectly, the Federal Government supports the employment of nearly half of all research and development personnel in the United States.

A good part of our Federal effort in this field has been directed in the past toward our national security needs. Because a strong national defense is essential to the maintenance of world peace, our research and development in support of national security must always be sufficient to our needs. We must ensure our strategic deterrent capability, continue the modernization of our Armed Forces, and strengthen the overall technological base that underlies future military systems. For these reasons, I have proposed a substantial increase for defense research and development for fiscal year 1973.

In this message, however, I would like to focus on how we can better apply our scientific resources in meeting civilian needs. Since the beginning of this Administration, I have felt that we should be doing more to focus our scientific and technological resources on the problems of the environment, health, energy, transportation and other pressing domestic concerns. If my new budget proposals are accepted, Federal funds for research and development concerning domestic problems will be 65 percent greater in the coming fiscal year than they were in 1969.

But increased funding is not the only prerequisite for progress in this field. We also need to spend our scarce resources more effectively. Accordingly, I have moved to develop an overall strategic approach in the allocation of Federal scientific and technological resources. As a part of this effort, I directed the Domestic Council last year to examine new technology opportunities in relation to domestic problems. In all of our planning, we have been concentrating not only on how much we spend but also on how we spend it.

My recommendations for strengthening the Federal role in science and technology have been presented to the Congress in my State of the Union message, in my budget for fiscal year 1973, and in individual agency presentations. I urge the Congress to support the various elements of this new Federal strategy.

1) We are reorienting our space program to focus on domestic needs--such as communications, weather forecasting and natural resource exploration. One important way of doing this is by designing and developing a reusable space shuttle, a step which would allow us to seize new opportunities in space with higher reliability at lower costs.

2) We are moving to set and meet certain civilian research and development targets. In my State of the Union Message, my Budget Message and in other communications with the Congress, I have identified a number of areas where new efforts are most likely to produce significant progress and help us meet pressing domestic needs. They include:

--Providing new sources of energy without pollution. My proposed budget for fiscal year 1973 would increase energy-related research and development expenditures by 22 percent.

--Developing fast, safe, pollution-free transportation. I have proposed spending 46 percent more in the coming fiscal year on a variety of transportation projects.

--Working to reduce the loss of life and property from natural disasters. I have asked, for example, that our earthquake research program be doubled and that our hurricane research efforts be increased.

--Improving drug abuse rehabilitation programs and efforts to curb drug trafficking. Our budget requests in this critical area are four times the level of 1971.

--Increasing biomedical research efforts, especially those concerning cancer and heart disease, and generally providing more efficient and effective health care, including better emergency health care systems.

3) We will also draw more directly on the capabilities of our high technology agencies--the Atomic Energy Commission, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Bureau of Standards in the Department of Commerce-in applying research and development to domestic problems.

4) We are making strong efforts to improve the scientific and technological basis for setting Federal standards and regulations. For example, by learning to measure more precisely the level of air pollution and its effects on our health, we can do a more effective job of setting pollution standards and of enforcing those standards once they are established.

5) I am also providing in my 1973 budget for a 12 percent increase for research and development conducted at universities and colleges. This increase reflects the effort of the past 2 years to encourage educational institutions to undertake research related to important national problems.

6) Finally, I believe that the National Science Foundation should draw on all sectors of the scientific and technological community in working to meet significant domestic challenges. To this end, I am taking action to permit the Foundation to support applied research in industry when the use of industrial capabilities would be advantageous in accomplishing the Foundation's objectives.


The direction of private scientific and technological activities is determined in large measure by thousands of private decisions--and this should always be the case. But we cannot ignore the fact that Federal policy also has a great impact on what happens in the private sector. This influence is exerted in many ways--including direct Federal support for such research and development.

In general, I believe it is appropriate for the Federal Government to encourage private research and development to the extent that the market mechanism is not effective in bringing needed innovations into use. This can happen in a number of circumstances. For example, the sheer size of some developmental projects is beyond the reach of private firms particularly in industries which are fragmented into many small companies. In other cases, the benefits of projects cannot be captured by private institutions, even though they may be very significant for the whole of society. In still other cases, the risks of certain projects, while acceptable to society as a whole, are excessive for individual companies.

In all these cases, Federal support of private research and development is necessary and desirable. We must see that such support is made available--through cost-sharing agreements, procurement policies or other arrangements.

One example of the benefits of such a partnership between the Federal Government and private enterprise is the program I presented last June to meet our growing need for clean energy. As I outlined the Federal role in this effort, I also indicated that industry's response to these initiatives would be crucial. That response has been most encouraging to date. For example, the electric utilities have already pledged some $25 million a year for a period of 10 years for developing a liquid metal fast breeder reactor demonstration plant. These pledges have come through the Edison Electric Institute, the American Public Power Association, and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. This effort is one part of a larger effort by the electrical utilities to raise $150 million annually for research and development to meet the growing demand for clean electric power.

At the same time, the gas companies, through the American Gas Association, have raised $10 million to accelerate the effort to convert coal into gas. This sum represents industry's first year share in a pilot plant program which will be financed one-third by industry and two-thirds by the Federal Government. When it proves feasible to proceed to the demonstration stage, industrial contributions to this project will be expected to increase.


An asset unused is an asset wasted. Federal research and development activities generate a great deal of new technology which could be applied in ways which go well beyond the immediate mission of the supporting agency. In such cases, I believe the Government has a responsibility to transfer the results of its research and development activities to wider use in the private sector.

It was to further this objective that we created in 1970 the new National Technical Information Service in the Department of Commerce. In addition, the new incentives programs of the National Science Foundation and the National Bureau of Standards will seek effective means of improving and accelerating the transfer of research and development results from Federal programs to a wider range of potential users.

One important barrier to the private development and commercial application of Government-sponsored technologies is the lack of incentive which results from the fact that such technologies are generally available to all competitors. To help remedy this situation, I approved last August a change in the Government patent policy which liberalized the private use of Government-owned patents. I directed that such patents may be made available to private firms through exclusive licenses where needed to encourage commercial application.

As a further step in this same direction, I am today directing my Science Adviser and the Secretary of Commerce to develop plans for a new, systematic effort to promote actively the licensing of Government-owned patents and to obtain domestic and foreign patent protection for technology owned by the United States Government in order to promote its transfer into the civilian economy.


There are many ways in which the Federal Government influences the level and the quality of private research and development. Its direct supportive efforts are important, but other policies--such as tax, patent, procurement, regulation and antitrust policies--also can have a significant effect on the climate for innovation.

We know, for instance, that a strong and reliable patent system is important to technological progress and industrial strength. The process of applying technology to achieve our national goals calls for a tremendous investment of money, energy and talent by our private enterprise system. If we expect industry to support this investment, we must make the most effective possible use of the incentives which are provided by our patent system.

The way we apply our antitrust laws can also do much to shape research and development. Uncertain reward and high risks can be significant barriers to progress when a firm is small in relation to the scale of effort required for successful projects. In such cases, formal or informal combinations of firms provide one means for hurdling these barriers, especially in highly fragmented industries. On the other hand, joint efforts among leading firms in highly concentrated industries would normally be considered undesirable. In general, combinations which lead to an improved allocation of the resources of the nation are normally permissible, but actions which lead to excessive market power for any single group are not. Any joint program for research and development must be approached in a way that does not detract from the normal competitive incentives of our free enterprise economy.

I believe we need to be better informed about the full consequences of all such policies for scientific and technological progress. For this reason, I have included in my budget for the coming fiscal year a program whereby the National Science Foundation would support assessments and studies focused specifically on barriers to technological innovation and on the consequences of adopting alternative Federal policies which would reduce or eliminate these barriers. These studies would be undertaken in close consultation with the Executive office of the President, the Department of Commerce and other concerned departments and agencies, so that the results can be most expeditiously considered as further Government decisions are made.

There are a number of additional steps which can also do much to enhance the climate for innovation.

1) I shall submit legislation to encourage the development of the small, high technology firms which have had such a distinguished pioneering record. Because the combination of high technology and small size makes such firms exceptionally risky from an investment standpoint, my proposal would provide additional means for the Small Business Investment Companies (SBICs) to improve the availability of venture capital to such firms.

a. I propose that the ratio of Government support to SBICs be increased. This increased assistance would be channeled to small business concerns which are principally engaged in the development or exploitation of inventions or of technological improvements and new products.

b. I propose that the current limit on Small Business Administration loam to each SBIC be increased to $20 million to allow for growth in SBIC funds devoted to technology investments.

c. I propose that federally regulated commercial banks again be permitted to achieve up to 100 percent ownership of an SBIC, rather than the limited 50 percent ownership which is allowed at present.

d. To enhance risk-taking and entrepreneurial ventures, I again urge passage of the small business tax bill, which would provide for extending the eligibility period for the exercise of qualified stock options from 5 to 8 or 10 years, reducing the holding period for non-registered stock from 3 years to 1 year, and extending the taxloss carry-forward from 5 to 10 years. These provisions would apply to small firms, as defined in the proposed legislation.

2) I have requested in my proposed budget for fiscal year 1973 that new programs be set up by the National Science Foundation and the National Bureau of Standards to determine effective ways of stimulating non-Federal investment in research and development and of improving the application of research and development results. The experiments to be set up under this program are designed to test a variety of partnership arrangements among the various levels of government, private firms and universities. They would include the exploration of new arrangements for cost-sharing, patent licensing, and research support, as well as the testing of incentives for industrial research associations.

3) To provide a focal point within the executive branch for policies concerning industrial research and development, the Department of Commerce will appraise, on a continuing basis, the technological strengths and weaknesses of American industry. It will propose measures to assure a vigorous state of industrial progress. The Department will work with other agencies in identifying barriers to such progress and will draw on the studies and assessments prepared through the National Science Foundation and the National Bureau of Standards.

4) To foster useful innovation, I also plan to establish a new program of research and development prizes. These prizes will be awarded by the President for outstanding achievements by individuals and institutions and will be used especially to encourage needed innovation in key areas of public concern. I believe these prizes will be an important symbol of the Nation's concern for our scientific and technological challenges.

5) An important step which could be of great significance in fostering technological innovations and enhancing our position in world trade is that of changing to the metric system of measurement. The Secretary of Commerce has submitted to the Congress legislation which would allow us to begin to develop a carefully coordinated national plan to bring about this change. The proposed legislation would bring together a broadly representative board of private citizens who would work with all sectors of our society in planning for such a transition. Should such a change be decided on, it would be implemented on a cooperative, voluntary basis.


A consistent theme which runs throughout my program for making government more responsive to public needs is the idea that each level of government should do what it can do best. This same theme characterizes my approach to the challenges of research and development. The Federal Government, for example, can usually do a good job of massing research and development resources. But State and local governments usually have a much better "feel" for the specific public challenges to which those resources can be applied. If we are to use science and technology effectively in meeting these challenges, then State and local governments should have a central role in the application process. That process is a difficult one at best; it will be even more complex and frustrating if the States and localities are not adequately involved.

To help build a greater sense of partnership among the three levels of the Federal system, I am directing my Science Adviser, in cooperation with the office of Intergovernmental Relations, to serve as a focal point for discussions among various Federal agencies and the representatives of State and local governments. These discussions should lay the basis for developing a better means for collaboration and consultation on scientific and technological questions in the future. They should focus on the following specific subjects:

1) Systematic ways for communicating to the appropriate Federal agencies the priority needs of State and local governments, along with information concerning locally-generated solutions to such problems. In this way, such information can be incorporated into the Federal research and development planning process.

2) Ways of assuring State and local governments adequate access to the technical resources of major Federal research and development centers, such as those which are concerned with transportation, the environment, and the development of new sources of energy.

3) Methods whereby the Federal Government can encourage the aggregation of State and local markets for certain products so that industries can give government purchasers the benefits of innovation and economies of scale.

The discussions which take place between Federal, State and local representatives can also help to guide the experimental programs I have proposed for the National Science Foundation and the National Bureau of Standards. These programs, in turn, can explore the possibilities for creating better ties between State and local governments on the one hand and local industries and universities on the other, thus stimulating the use of research and development in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of public services at the State and local level.


The laws of nature transcend national boundaries. Increasingly, the peoples of the world are irrevocably linked in a complex web of global interdependence--and increasingly the strands of that web are woven by science and technology.

The cause of scientific and technological progress has always been advanced when men have been able to reach across international boundaries in common pursuits. Toward this end, we must now work to facilitate the flow of people and the exchange of ideas, and to recognize that the basic problems faced in each nation are shared by every nation.

I believe this country can benefit substantially from the experience of other countries, even as we help other countries by sharing our information and facilities and specialists with them. To promote this goal, I am directing the Federal agencies, under the leadership of the Department of State, to identify new opportunities for international cooperation in research and development. At the same time, I am inviting other countries to join in research efforts in the United States, including:

--the effort to conquer cancer at the unique research facilities of our National Institutes of Health and at Fort Detrick, Maryland; and

--the effort to understand the adverse health effects of chemicals, drugs and pollutants at the new National Center for Toxicological Research at Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

These two projects concern priority problems which now challenge the whole world's research community. But they are only a part of the larger fabric of cooperative international efforts in which we are now engaged.

Science and technology can also provide important links with countries which have different political systems from ours. For example, we have recently concluded an agreement with the Soviet Union in the field of health, an agreement which provides for joint research on cancer, heart disease and environmental health problems. We are also cooperating with the Soviet Union in the space field; we will continue to exchange lunar samples and we are exploring prospects for closer cooperation in satellite meteorology, in remote sensing of the environment, and in space medicine. Beyond this, joint working groups have verified the technical feasibility of a docking mission between a SALYUT Station1 and an Apollo spacecraft.

1 A Soviet orbital space laboratory station.

One result of my recent visit to the People's Republic of China was an agreement to facilitate the development of contacts and exchanges in many fields, including science and technology. I expect to see further progress in this area.

The United Nations and a number of its specialized agencies are also involved in a wide range of scientific and technological activities. The importance of these tasks--and the clear need for an international approach to technical problems with global implications--argues for the most effective possible organization and coordination of various international agencies concerned. As a step in this direction, I proposed in a recent message to the Congress the creation of a United Nations Fund for the Environment to foster an international attack on environmental problems. Also, I believe the American scientific community should participate more fully in the science activities of international agencies.

To further these objectives, I am taking steps to initiate a broad review of United States involvement in the scientific and technological programs of international organizations and of steps that might be taken to make United States participation in these activities more effective, with even stronger ties to our domestic programs.

Finally, I would emphasize that United States science and technology can and must play an important role in the progress of developing nations. We are committed to bring the best of our science and technology to bear on the critical problems of development through our reorganized foreign assistance programs.


The years ahead will require a new sense of purpose and a new sense of partnership in science and technology. We must define our goals clearly, so that we know where we are going. And then we must develop careful strategies for pursuing those goals, strategies which bring together the Federal Government, the private sector, the universities, and the States and local communities in a cooperative pursuit of progress. Only then can we be confident that our public and private resources for science and technology will be spent as effectively as possible.

In all these efforts, it will be essential that the American people be better equipped to make wise judgments concerning public issues which involve science and technology. As our national life is increasingly permeated by science and technology, it is important that public understanding grow apace.

The investment we make today in science and technology and in the development of our future scientific and technical talent is an investment in tomorrow--an investment which can have a tremendous impact on the basic quality of our lives. We must be sure that we invest wisely and well

March 16, 1972.

Note: On the same day, the White House released a fact sheet and the transcript of a news briefing on the message. Participants in the news briefing were Dr. Edward E. David, Jr., Director, office of Science and Technology, and Alan K. McAdams, Senior Staff Economist, Council of Economic Advisers.
Citation: Richard Nixon: "Special Message to the Congress on Science and Technology.," March 16, 1972. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=3773.
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